Friday, November 21, 2008

Canadiens 3 - Senators 2 (SO)

What a disappointing end to a really well played game. This game was all Sens and it's unfortunate they came out on the wrong side of things, but a bad call in the second and some intense play from the Habs in the final five of regulation was enough to be the difference. I think the Senators are really starting to put things together and though it's not reflected in a very comforting way on the scoresheet or in the standings, it doesn't feel like this team just lost its 6th game. They are playing very good hockey right now and it will start to pay dividends soon enough, they just need to keep the energy up.

For years the average fan has claimed that they would gladly and eagerly swap regular season dominance for playoff effectiveness. That they don't care at all about wins in October or November or December, as long as they can play tough hockey when it matters. But when the Sens do exactly that, swap personnel for a team more geared to playoff success but which is going through a requisite growing process in the regular season, people freak out and want half the team gone, along with the coach and GM. The team is taking baby steps towards competitive hockey and though it's not easy or delightful to watch the process unfold, in the end it will be so much more preferable to this team throwing in a couple 7-4 games to inflate the stats and mask bad habits and ineffectual play which will come back to haunt us in the spring - the Senators are taking the right approach.

For the first time in this losing streak that now stretches an unfortunate two weeks, I left the game disappointed about the loss but not ashamed, infuriated or confused about the performance. The Senators played a win-worthy game tonight, even moreso than on Monday against the Rangers. While again, it is little comfort to say the Senators "played well" or "tried hard" when looking at the standings, it is important to keep in perspective the length of the season. A good stretch of games half as long as this losing streak, and the team will be an a playoff position.

Most important to keep in mind, is the way the Senators have been losing games. Offense has been hard to come by, which has lead to a bevy of 2-1 or 3-2 defeats, but the Senators defensive play from all skaters remains impressive, Auld continues to place among the league's best goaltenders in the relevant statistical categories, and the penalty kill continues to shut down the opposition. Last year's weaknesses have become this year's strengths under Hartsburg. While the lack of offense is frustrating if not worrying, the Senators continue to out-chance the opposition and create multiple "sure" goal opportunities on a nightly basis - it is not a lack of effort, creativity, chemistry or talent that is leading to a lack of goals, simply a lack of finish. Is it reassuring? Far from it, but as all of the league's top players attest, as long as a player or team is generating chances, it is only a matter of time before the pucks start going in, and once they do, they rarely stop.

The Senators have an opportunity on Saturday afternoon to continue to their streak of good play, only this time attempt to broaden the performance to include a victory, in a rematch against the New York Rangers. It will be veteran defenseman Wade Redden's Rangers debut at Scotiabank Place, so anticipate a spirited effort from both sides. In addition, the Ottawa Senators will debut their black alternate jerseys, and if mustache contests aren't enough to generate wins for this team, perhaps a lucky third jersey will be.